A season which was fast going off the rails for Hampshire has all of a sudden begun to pick up speed at just the right time as Dominic Cork’s team find themselves in the Twenty20 finals day for the first time at their home ground after a storming victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
Cork, who has played a huge part in the resurgence of this side after taking over the captaincy from Nic Pothas mid-way through the season, has found himself saddled with a young team in the absence of a number of senior players.
For one reason or another, be it international duty or injury, he has been forced to do without Simon Jones, Nic Pothas, Dimitri Mascharenas, Kevin Pietersen and Kabir Ali for large parts of this campaign, yet in their absence Hampshire’s young stars have begun to find their feet in impressive fashion.
None was more impressive than young batsman James Vince, whose unbeaten 66 was the key factor in his side’s victory and was an innings which was audacious as much for its startling maturity than its majesty.
The man-of-the-match hit the headlines last year after former England coach Duncan Fletcher compared him with Michael Vaughan. The comparisons may be a touch premature, but they are now without reason. In terms of his shot selection, the sweetness of his timing and the sheer composure at the crease, Vince has a lot in common with the former England captain.
While he may not have garnered the praise of either Ben Stokes or James Taylor, Vince has quietly and efficiently got on with doing what he does best, making runs. While he has not yet got the big scores, he has a happy knack of scoring runs whenever he is at the crease-and as he showed today-is capable of making them at the right time.
But there are others, especially left-arm spinner Danny Briggs, the third highest wicket taker in the competition with 27 wickets at an average of 14.29.
Today he took three vital wickets and showed plenty of nous and accuracy, something which will undoubtedly have impressed the watching Ashley Giles.
He also managed to out bowl the vastly more experienced Imran Tahir, and had former England captain Michael Atherton purring in the commentary box.
Those two were the decisive men today for Hampshire, but there were also decisive contributions from wicketkeeper Matthew Bates,who kept wonderfully both standing up and back from the stumps, and left arm seamer Chris Wood, who despite failing to pick up a wicket had the vastly experienced Darren Maddy in all sorts of trouble at times.
It is worth remembering that were their more experienced men available or had Michael Lumb not endured such a dismal run of form, then these four young men may never have played in the first place.
But it is also testament to the quality of the Hampshire academy and the work that goes on behind the scenes that these players, along with the missing Liam Dawson, are capable of performing so well on the big stage when called upon.
Though they too will pay compliments to the roles of some of Hampshire’s experienced men in their success. Throughout the team there is a real team ethic, and a supporting influence, which perhaps starts from Cork but has permeated throughout this team.
Led by opener Jimmy Adams, the first ever batsman to score over 600 runs in a domestic T20 season, and backed by solid contributions from Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie in the middle order and with the nous of experienced campaigners Abdul Razzaq, Daniel Christian and Neil Ervine.
Altogether it makes for a potent T20 mixture, and one that appears to be serving the Hampshire Hawks well.
Come finals day they ought to be tough opposition for whoever they come up against, and if Cork and his team do succeed on their home patch, don’t be surprised if it’s their young stars who are once again leading the way.